STEP 1: Selecting a Program: Finding the Right Academics, Financial and Personal Fit
There is no such thing as "the best" or "one-size-fits-all" study abroad experience. Your child's goal should be to find the best program for herself. This will depend on a number of academic, personal, and financial factors. Here are some questions for your child to ask as she looks for the program that best fits her own unique goals, objectives, and needs.
- How long is the program, and when is it offered?
- Is it a semester? A year? Shorter? Does it dovetail with her academic calendar and/or her need to work?
- What kind of program is this? Will I be traveling and studying together with a group of other students from our home campus, or a group of American students from other universities? Will I be "immersed" into o foreign university? What kind of support services will be available to me on-site?
The good news is that there are so many types of study abroad opportunities now available that, with good planning, it is possible to find the right experience for almost any student. Finding the right fit depends on your child's age, level of maturity, previous international experience, and personality among other factors. If this is her first international experience, you may both feel more comfortable with her selecting a program where she will travel together in a group with other students from her home campus, with on-site staff or chaperones from the home campus; and you may also be attracted to programs of a shorter duration. A more mature or experienced student who is looking to develop proficiency in a foreign language or career training abroad may be ready for a more independent experience, a more complete immersion into a foreign culture, and a longer stay-so this student will be looking for an entirely different type of program.
If your child is confident and comfortable with taking on new challenges, an extensive stay is compatible with her program of study, and you feel that she has the maturity to weather the ups and downs that typically accompany a study abroad experience, she may be ready for the more independent, and invaluable, experience offered by immersion programs. and programs of a longer duration (a semester or a year).
Are there work, internship, or service learning programs abroad that will help me in the development of my career?
Students, educators, and employers are increasingly recognizing the val ue of work. internship, and service learning programs abroad. These programs can offer students the benefits of both hands-on experience for use in their future careers and the opportunity to interact closely with local professionals and residents. The experience and skills gained in programs like these may be looked on very favorably by future employers, and can also provide students with intensive, in-depth immersion into a foreign culture--one of the primary goals of study abroad. Of course, as with any program, students should find out if or how the work they do while abroad will apply toward their credits for graduation.
Are there any prerequisites or special requirements for participating in this program? Do I need to speak a foreign language? If so, what level of proficiency Is required?
Because many programs now offer classes conducted in English in non-English-speaking countries, foreign language proficiency is not necessarily a requirement, but it is always an essential question to ask' Of course, students who are planning to participate in a program offered in a country where a foreign language is spoken will benefit from whatever advance familiarity in the language they can acquire. Approaching such an experience with phrase book and pocket dictionary in hand, and with an open, inquiring spirit, ready to learn, is the best way of making the experience as enjoyable and educational as it can be.
Who awards the credit, and how will it count toward my degree?
If credit is not awarded by the home institution, what is the process for transferring credits and how will they transfer? Are the grades averaged into the CPA? Will they apply toward the major, general education, distribution, or other graduation requirements?
How much does it cost?
What is the total cost of the program? Does it include tuition? Airfare? Housing? A meal plan?
Be especially careful to ask specific questions about what is covered regarding housing and meals. Have your child ask how far the housing will be from where classes will be held: whether it is in a safe area; and how she will get from her place of residence to classes. Do not assume that a meal plan includes three meals a day, seven days a week: ask! If the student will be in a home-stay situation, ask if she will be invited or expected to eat with the family, and whether or not she will have kitchen privileges.
Is financial aid available for study abroad?
In some cases students may be able to use at least some of the same financial aid packages they receive at the home campus for study abroad. In other cases, they cannot. SHSU offers special scholarship money specifically designed to help make study abroad possible. The SHSU Study Abroad Office can help direct students toward available resources for funding study abroad and let them know which programs will be eligible for financial aid.
Are provisions made, or support services available, for students with special needs?
If your child has special needs, she will want to ask questions about any special services, accommodations, etc. she may require. or be accustomed to receiving on her home campus.
Many countries have provisions comparable but not necessarily equal to those provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); often they are not as extensive and generous as those in the United States Knowing in advance what kinds of assistance will or will not be available is important in assuring that your child has a pleasant and safe experience abroad. The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) at Mobility International USA (http://wwwmiusa.org) has information about programs that are willing and able to assist students with special needs.
STEP 2: PREPARING FOR DEPARTURE: MONITORING YOUR CHILD'S PROGRESS
Academic Preparation: Registration, Approvals, Transfer of Credits
The steps your child will need to take to ensure that he earns credits while on study abroad depends a great deal on what kind of program he will be participating in. Is the program offered through his home institution? Through another American college or university? An independent (third-party) Provider? A foreign university? Here are some of the main questions your child should ask to ensure that he will stay on track academically.
How will the credits I earn on study abroad apply toward my degree? Are there any special steps I must take, or special procedures to follow?
In order for students to receive credit for their study abroad, they MUST go through the SHSU Study Abroad Office. It is the priority of the SA office to ensure that all credits will transfer back in correctly, and getting course approvals is the first step the student is asked to complete- even BEFORE they actually apply to any program. There are 3 ways that credits can be applied from study abroad: (1)direct enroll in an SHSU course that is being taught abroad by an SHSU faculty member, (2) enrollment in an "SABR" course at SHSU that will be equal to another course they need for their degree, and (3) have credits from the host university transferred back to SHSU upon completion of their program abroad. In the 2nd and 3rd methods above, course approvals are acquired well before the student spends any money on the planned trip.
Having said this, the "aggravation" factor of transferring credits from overseas study or internships may be well worth the trouble. It's nice to have credits neatly fit into one's graduation plan. On the other hand, if what your child is seeking is a truly foreign experience, one of the trade-offs may well be giving up some of that convenience in favor of real immersion into another culture and its educational system. Is that worth some bureaucratic wrangling, and perhaps "losing time" toward graduation, in exchange for an invaluable course of study? Or for a type of work experience she could never get in this country, that will provide her with invaluable learning or training in her field, and that she will never forget? It's something to think about. and weigh in the decision making process.
In some rare cases students will "lose time" toward graduation by choosing to study abroad. In many cases students, and their parents, feel that this time is not really lost, but is a good investment in their education, as well as their future career and lives. However, it's best for students to know this ahead of time so that they won't encounter any unpleasant surprises when they try to transfer the credits back home. The office of education abroad or international education on the home campus is the best centralized source forth is kind of information. Students should also be sure to tell their academic advisers about their plans.
Sometimes independent study credits can be arranged for study abroad experiences. Usually, where there is a will to study abroad, there is a way to make it work. Planning well in advance helps make it possible.
Important Paperwork: Passports, Visas, etc.
What official documents will I need to travel? Do I need a passport? A visa? How long ahead of time do I need to start this process?
Your child should apply for his passport several months ahead of the time he will be traveling. Detailed information about how and where to apply for U.S. passports is available on the U.S. Department of State Web site (www.travel.state.gov/passport). This Web site also provides information about the location of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, how to get information in a national or international emergency, and other information useful to travelers.
To obtain a passport, your child will need to show proof of citizenship: a previous passport, a birth certificate, naturalization documents. etc. If you need extra time to locate these important documents, you will need to start even earlier. Because applying for a passport is a complicated and lengthy process, as a parent you should also havea valid, up-to-date passport so that, in the unlikely event of illness or an emergency, you would be able to travel quickly to your child's location.
Once your child has his passport, impress upon him the importance of not losing it. For security, have him take a paper photocopy of it a long with him but kept separate from his passport in case he has to apply for a replacement He should also leave a paper photocopy and computer scan of it with you as a backup.
Note: If your child is not an American citizen, she will need to check with the U.S. Department of State, the embassy or consulate of the country or countries she will be traveling in, and the embassy or consulate of the country issuing her passport to learn what documentation she will need in her travels. Her program advisers may be able to help direct her toward the proper agencies to determine what documentation she will need to travel to her destination and be readmitted into the United States; but it is HER responsibility to make sure the proper documentation is in order before she leaves. Make sure she understands that this is a non-negotiable requirement. Without the proper documentation, she WILL NOT be permitted to board a plane headed to a foreign destination; and there is nothing anyone will be able to do to help her get on that plane until she has it.
Visas are official documents issued by governments, granting permission for visitors to enter a country. The program provider or your office of education abroad may be able to tell your child whether she will need a visa to travel in certain countries: if not, they can help direct her to the right source.
To obtain visas, students may need to show proof of acceptance into a study abroad program or may be asked to show proof of student status upon entering a country. The letter of acceptance may also prove helpful in crossing borders when abroad, so be sure your child keeps either an original, or a good photocopy, of this letter with her passport when she travels.
Health Issues and Concerns
What do I need to know about health concerns abroad? What should I do to prepare for my trip?
As with all other aspects of planning for study abroad, when it comes to your child's health issues, the sooner the planning begins, the better.
Students can begin by asking the staff of the office of education abroad or international education at the home campus if they have program or country- specific health information and recommendations. Other excellent sources of up-to-date information on health issues around the world can be obtained through the U.S. Department of State Web site, or by calling 1.888 407.4747: and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Travelers Health Web site, www.cdc.gov/travel. The CDC Web site offers comprehensive and up-to-date international health information, and has a search feature that allows you to research health information specific to the region where you will be traveling. They also have a travelers' hotline, accessible from within the U.S. at J 877.394.8747.
There is a wealth of information about health issues for students abroad available online. Here are a few very general things to keep in mind:
- Whether or not he is traveling to a part of the world where there are special requirements or recommendations for immunizations, make sure his immunizations are up-to-date and will remain so throughout the period of study abroad. The CDC Web site (www.cdc.gov/travel) has a country-by-country list of required and recommended immunizations.
- Whether or not the program requires it, make sure that she has a good physical before going abroad. Have her tell her health care provider about her travel plans and ask if there is anything special she should do to prepare.
- Make sure he will have medical insurance coverage while he is away. Some programs offer travel insurance as part of the package, and medical coverage may be included. But some, and some states and countries too, require students to purchase separate medical insurance for their study abroad. Your child will most likely have to pay up-front for any medical treatment he receives abroad, and then file for reimbursement from the insurance company Be sure he understands the importance of obtaining and saving whatever documentation is necessary to file such a claim
- If she needs prescription medication, make sure that she has a sufficient supply to last while abroad, or a plan for how to get refills while she is away. (Be sure she also has a copy of her prescription in a safe place.)
- Be sure that he is honest when filling out the health questionnaires in his study abroad application. Studying abroad is a wonderful experience, but it is also often challenging both intellectually and emotionally. If there are any emotional or mental health issues that may be a concern while he is abroad, letting the program operators know in advance that he may need special support is in his best interest: sometimes waiting for a better time may be a good idea.
As with safety, it's important not to skip over the importance of mundane challenges to student health abroad. Students arriving in an unfamiliar location, often suffering from jet lag after a long airplane ride, are susceptible to colds and other minor illnesses that, if combined with too many days of not enough sleep or not enough of the right kind of food, can lead to more serious health issues It's hard to convince students that they are not invincible. All parents and program advisers can do is remind them that they are in charge of their own health and well-being, and that getting enough rest can keep them feeling good and able to fully enjoy their experience abroad-and hope they listen!
What do I need to know about air travel?
Whether the study abroad program is making the arrangements for the flight, or she is doing it herself, it is up to your child to make sure that she understands the airline's requirements for number of baggage items allowed, size and weight restrictions, and the rules concerning items that are allowed in carry-on or checked baggage, reconfirmation of flights, etc. Most airlines provide this information on their Web sites, and of course will be happy to answer questions on the phone if anything is unclear.
Where can I get information about additional travel I may wish to do while I am on study abroad?
Depending on where he is traveling and how long he will be there, there may be travel packages he wants to purchase in advance, while still in the US., for travel before or after the period of study abroad. Appendix A lists a few of the places he can start researching these possibilities.
Financial Matters: Budgeting and Currency Exchange
How can I plan for the cost of day-to-day expenses while I am abroad?
This may be one of the hardest questions for program providers and study abroad advisers to answer very satisfactorily, and the most frustrating thing for students and parents not to be able to predict accurately. But the truth is that the question of how much money your child will need while abroad depends so much on where he is going, what his personal financial situation is, how well or how poorly he manages money, and what effect inflation and changing currency exchange rates may be having on the cost of living in the country in which he will be studying It is therefore very difficult For program advisers to answer this question with any degree of precision and accuracy.
Appendix D, Study Abroad Costs and Expenses, can help you think through the categories and kinds of additional expenses that may be incurred while your child is abroad, which will help in planning and knowing what questions to ask program providers. (There are also helpful discussions of this on some university Web sites. Appendix A. Additional Resources, gives links to a few of them.) Talking to students who have recently returned from the program your child is planning to participate in can be helpful in getting a handle on how the cost of living compares there with the cost of living in your home community or on your child's campus. But be aware that one student's experience in a place may be very different from another's. Because of this, asking for examples of the cost of specific items and activities may be more helpful than asking about overall budget.
You should discuss with your child the budget she will have to live within, and/or to what degree you may be able to help her with expenses while she is away. Knowing in advance that the first month is almost always the most expensive may help in planning, and in avoiding dismay and panic if and when it happens.
Credit cards are a convenient and usually favorable way of making purchases abroad; but they offer the same potential pitfalls as credit card use anywhere, perhaps exacerbated by the feeling of being in a place "you may never be again." Talking with your child about how to manage her spending, whether it is her money or yours, is probably a very important discussion to have before she leaves. She should also become at least somewhat familiar with customs regulations to avoid having to leave behind something she purchased but can't bring back into the United States, or paying exorbitant or unexpected duty on items purchased.
What is the best way to exchange money while abroad?
In many parts of the world, ATM debit cards offer the most convenient way of getting foreign currency, and usually a favorable rate of exchange as well If your child does not already have an account with an ATM card, you might want to have her get one for the time she is abroad. Be sure that the bank you are opening an account with has reciprocal agreements with banks in the country she will be traveling in. and ask whether there are any special rules governing PINs, withdrawal amounts, what the amount of charges for withdrawals are, etc. Unfortunately, U.S travelers on the ground in a foreign country often find that the information they were given by their banks back home turns out to be less than totally accurate, or insufficiently comprehensive. No matter what your bank tells you, be sure to send your child with enough foreign currency and/or traveler's checks to cover basic expenses for the first few days in case she has a problem withdrawing cash at first.
Cultural and Personal Preparation
Foreign Language: Is It Necessary?
A generation or two ago, there weren't many study abroad opportunities available to students who were not foreign language majors. Happily, today there are many programs offering courses in countries where foreign languages are spoken in a myriad of subject areas and disciplines, and often in English. This means there are many more opportunities for students who are not Foreign language majors to enjoy the benefits of study abroad.
Does this mean that students can head into foreign countries without knowing anything at all about the local language? If the program doesn't require it and the course is taught in English, why not? After all, isn't English the universal language? And, especially if they will be spending time in more than one country, they can't be expected to learn all those languages, can they?
Of course they can't. On the other hand, students who make the effort to learn at least a few basic phrases for each country they travel in are likely to greatly improve the quality of their interaction with the local population. It is true that in many parts of the world, especially among students, English is spoken. But it is a simple courtesy, as well as a highly effective practical tactic, to at least give fair notice—and the time to summon up their English-speaking skills—to foreigners before launching into a question. Americans tend to be very practical people, wanting to get straight to the business of an interaction, whereas many cultures around the world place a much higher priority on a prescribed formula for social interaction
It's good to learn these things, and respect them—it also helps to improve the quality of one's experience in a country. Even if your child can't ask a question in the local language, it's much better to start with the words "Excuse me, do you speak English?" slowly and clearly spoken rather than launch directly into a request that may well be both unexpected and unintelligible to the person he is addressing.
Some study abroad programs provide some guidance and training in Fundamental foreign language skills through their predeparture or on-site orientations. Others do not. Even if your child hasn't studied the language, and has no opportunity to do so before going, he can learn a lot from a simple phrase book. With the phrase book and a pocket dictionary tucked into his backpack, and an open mind and the willingness to try (including the all-important quality of being able to laugh at oneself. and/or sound like a "fool,") he will have all he needs to begin communicating with others in their languages. ("Excuse me, do you speak English?" "Can you help me?" "Please," "Thank you," and ''I'm sorry," are all very good phrases to know in any country!)
Around the world, most people appreciate it when a foreigner makes an effort to learn about their culture and speak their language. And travelers who go to the trouble of trying to learn these things tend to have more positive travel experiences.
Researching Your Child's Destination
One of the things busy parents and college students fail to do that could make the study abroad experience much more beneficial and enjoyable is to take the time to learn as much as you can about your child's destination before she leaves. Encourage her to approach this experience as the thoroughly educational experience it is from the start, by researching her destination as soon as she knows where she is going.
Libraries, the Internet, and study abroad program offices are all good places to begin researching.
But encourage her to think creatively, as well, about unusual ways to maximize the educational value of her experience. Maybe her advisers will have suggestions about topics related to her major or her intended career to learn about while she is abroad. Are there opportunities for pursuing questions about family history or relatives to look up while there? Help her think about ways she can deepen and broaden the experience in advance so if there is research to do she can do it before she gets on the plane. (But don't go overboard with extra projects. Remember, she is going to STUDY abroad, so any additional research should not intrude on or distract her from her main academic responsibilities and objectives.)
U.S. Students Abroad: Putting the Right Foot Forward
Since one of the main purposes of education abroad is to Further international and intercultural understanding, your child should always be aware that as an American student abroad. Fairly or unfairly, he will be viewed as a representative of America and Americans.
U.S. students are often caught off guard by how much foreigners know about American history, politics, and current events, and are embarrassed that they sometimes know little or nothing about the history, politics, and current events in the place they have come to study-and often, less about their own government's current positions and actions, and their own history, than foreign students do. They may be taken aback by confrontational question, or upset by real or perceived anti-American attitudes or sentiments. One of the best ways for students to fulfill their unofficial "diplomatic" role is to brush up a little bit on their own history, bring themselves up-to-date on current events, consider how they feel about their own country's policies and positions, and think in advance about how they might respond to difficult questions or confrontational statements.
Students might want to bring things to share with their host families, foreign students and teachers, and others they will meet. Pictures of their home communities, Families, and friends will facilitate intercultural learning both for the students who bring them and for the international students they meet. Inexpensive items of clothing, post cards, or other small souvenirs will also make welcome gifts for the many people who are likely to do nice things for your child while she is a guest in their country.
Career Development: Thinking Ahead
In addition to the personal and intellectual benefits of study abroad, and its reputation for helping students make great strides toward greater independence and maturity, study abroad is increasingly being recognized as an important tool in career development. By thinking ahead and approaching study abroad as the career-building tool it can be, your child will be in the best position to maximize those benefits when she returns. Here are a few suggestions for ways students can set themselves up to maximize the career benefits of study abroad:
Maintain a notebook listing the names and contact information for people you meet while abroad, along with brief notes to remind you what you talked about, what the person does, etc. Let the people you talk to know what you're doing, why you came to country X. and what you'd like to do in your future career. When appropriate, stay in touch and keep these contacts up to date as your career progresses.
Talk to adults and foreign students about the local economy, as well as career opportunities and realities in that part of the world. Ask them about their interactions with and opinions about American businesses, and remember what they say so that you can share their perspective with your future employers.
While abroad, practice the local language as much as you can by speaking it with everyone you meet, reading the local newspapers and magazines, going to movies in the local language, etc., and keep a list of new words and expressions you learn. When you're back home, keep the language skills you've acquired current by writing to the people you met while abroad, going to movies in the target language, reading, and/or continuing your language study.
Keep a journal. In addition to using it as a place to record your own private thoughts and feelings, jot down new thoughts about things you'd like to do, ways you'd like to continue the learning you started after this experience is over, and ideas about how you can build on your international experience once you are home again. Use it as a place to record information about and observations of the new and interesting world around you, and the new thoughts and perspective you are gaining from people in another part of the world.
If you think you may want to return to the country for additional study, work, or an internship or service learning opportunity, do any research and inquiry you can while you're still there. The Internet is great, but there's no substitute for on-the-ground, first-hand knowledge. Be aware though that it can be very difficult to work in other countries after graduation Help with this is something your home campus study abroad office or career center cannot provide.
Packing: Easy Does it!
One good rule of thumb for prospective students abroad is to pack "only the bare minimum" of what they think they will need: then to remove about half of what's there. Some study abroad advisers suggest that students pack their bags, then walk around the block with them to see how it feels to carry them (keeping in mind that they will also want to purchase souvenirs, clothing, etc. while they are abroad).
Remind your child to pack what she can't get along without (prescriptions. extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, textbooks, etc.) in her carry-on luggage. The type of clothing and incidental items she needs to pack will depend a great deal on what part of the world she is traveling to. She may get good advice about this from the program: it can also be part of her predeparture research to learn about the climate in her chosen destination (and other details, such as whether or not air conditioning is widely available). In many parts of the world, the standards for proper dress in public, especially for women, are more conservative. Your daughter can avoid a lot of undesirable attention by not bringing provocative or skimpy clothing designed for nightclubs or the beach, and dressing more modestly and conservatively while she is abroad, taking her cues from the way she sees local female students dress. She can dress attractively and fashionably without drawing undue, or the wrong kind of, attention to herself. Let her know that her comfort and safety will be enhanced by paying attention to local standards, and dressing accordingly.
“Please Be Careful!” Talking With Your Child About Safety Abroad
Before your child goes abroad, talk to him about any concerns you may have about his safety, and give him the chance to express his. If there are specific concerns you have about the country in which he will be traveling, talk about them with the program provider. Although they cannot guarantee your child's safety, or anyone's, in most cases these professionals will be able to give you a good sense of what the real risks are, how to minimize any dangers, and what your child can do to keep himself safe and healthy while on study abroad.
Office of International Programs
Farrington Building, Suite 116, Huntsville, TX 77340